Starring: Nicolas Cage, Tye Sheridan, Gary Poulter, Ronnie Gene Blevins, Adriene Mishler, A.J. Wilson McPhaul
Rated R for Violence, Disturbing Material, Language and Some Strong Sexual Content
Nicolas Cage has been a popular whipping boy for a while now, and I'm not sure why. To hate him has become the "in" thing to do. Whenever I ask someone why they hate him, I can't get a good answer. It's all "Nicolas Cage sucks" or something.
I'm not sure where all the hate is coming from. Sure, he appears to never turn down a role these days, but he had most of his money invested in the housing market prior to the bust in 2008. But I have yet to see him in a bad performance, and some of his work ("The Rock," "Leaving Las Vegas" "Face/Off") has been superb. Granted those were in the mid-90's, but "Joe" was released 2 years ago, and you know what? He's still got it.
Joe (Cage) is an ex-con who runs a rather shady business. Lumber companies can't cut down living trees, so they pay Joe and his crew to hack at them with poisoned axes so they can be chopped down. One day, a young kid named Gary (Sheridan) walks up looking for work. Joe gives him a job, and the bond forms between the two is the film's core drama.
"Joe" is not for everyone. The plot meanders with an almost improvisational nature, and not much happens in it. But the performances from Cage, Sheridan, and the rest of the cast are strong enough to keep us interested in them. The tone that director David Gordon Green chooses to tell the story is understated; not on mute, but there's no mistaking it for something that would be shown in a multiplex.
Cage gives one of his best performances as Joe, burying himself deeply into his character's skin. Joe is a drunk himself, and has been dealt some hard knocks by life. Some are not his fault, but by his own admission, Joe has a temper and can turn violent. Young Tye Sheridan, an actor who is quickly building a name for himself on the indie film circuit (he played the central character's brother in "The Tree of Life" and also starred opposite Matthew McConaughey and Reese Witherspoon in "Mud"), is surprisingly capable of holding his own against Cage. There are times when he can't quite reach the right note, but that's as much the script's fault. Also worth mentioning is Gary Poulter. Poulter was a non-actor discovered by Green on location (Green does this for many of his films), and he gives a great performance; the only fault is lies with the script, which doesn't give the character the depth to bridge the gap between a harmless drunk and a vicious monster. Perhaps this is because the role mirrored Poulter's life so closely. In real life, Poulter was a homeless alcoholic, and the producers feared that this would cause problems for filming. Sadly, Poulter was found dead shortly after filming ended.
The film needed a better editor. Some of what happens occurs off-screen or is scripted so obliquely that it's unclear what's going on. "Joe" is less of a plot-oriented film than one that simply watches its characters and follows them around. For those looking for a point of reference, I kept thinking of "Redemption" with Jason Statham.
"Joe" remains a compelling film until the end. In short, the climax falls flat on its face. Not only is it a cliche that belongs in a different movie, I didn't believe a second of it. It relies on a character doing something incredibly stupid for no reason. Once it starts, nearly every moment is completely predictable.
Nevertheless, for those who enjoy quiet, character-based films like this, "Joe" is worth seeing.